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Why "Queer"olina?

By exhibit curators Hooper Schultz and Cassie Tanks, Spring 2022.

"Queerolina" is a title that aims to encompass the multiplicities of LBGTQiA+ identities while also holding space for the negative ways in which the word "Queer" has been used to defame and attack people who fall outside of heterosexual or cisgender norms.

We chose the title "Queerolina" for this digital exhibit to showcase stories about LGBTQIA+ experiences on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The invocation of the word "queer" within the title was an intentional move to highlight the multifaceted and multifocal nature of the LGBTQIA+ communities at Carolina. Queer as an identity label first gained prominence in the 1990s with activist groups such as Queer Nation and queer theory within the academy, both of which sought to destabilize the rigid binaries of homo / hetero and build an identity that was encompassing of a wide variety of non-normative gender and sexuality subjectivities.

"Queerolina" also harkens back to people in North Carolina who derided the town of Chapel Hill and University of North Carolina for being places where people fell outside of heterosexual norms. Recouping "Queerolina" as a positive demonym for Carolina’s campus asserts the power and belonging that LGBTQIA+ people at UNC-Chapel Hill have demanded as they reclaimed campus spaces for their own use and asserted their place in the Carolina community. Thus, the term "queer" and name "Queerolina" have both political and theoretical resonance for the goals of this digital exploration of Carolina’s campus.

However, the term "queer" carries a complicated history and negative weight as well. "Queer" is used as a derogatory and exclusionary slur in many places across the country and continues to have such connotations amongst rural and elderly populations especially. Some Black theorists of sexuality, such as Evelynn Hammonds, have wrestled with and ultimately declined to self-identify as queer, while identifying as Black same-sex-loving people.[1] Could it be that potential collaborators or community gatekeepers see our project’s title and are repelled by its use of the word queer, or of the word us? Some same-sex-loving UNC community members may not wish to be included in an imagined community that lumps disparate gender and sexual subjectivities under one totalizing roof.

[1] Evelynn Hammonds, “Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality." In The Black Studies Reader, ed. Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley, Claudine Michel. Routledge, 2004.